Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

New Zealand Female Body Image: What Roles Do Ethnicity and Body Mass Play?

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Psychology

New Zealand Female Body Image: What Roles Do Ethnicity and Body Mass Play?

Article excerpt

Body dissatisfaction is a highly prevalent experience among women across

the world; however, there is minimal research relating to this topic for the

different ethnic groups in New Zealand. In this study, 45 New Zealand female

university students who identified either as Tangata Whenua (1) Maori or New

Zealand European completed questionnaires measuring body dissatisfaction

and ethnic identity. Although there were many similarities between the groups,

there were also interesting differences. Body mass was related to body

concerns more so among European than Maori participants. Furthermore,

strength of Maori ethnic identity was shown to be associated with lower

levels of weight concern.

Dissatisfaction with one's own body is one of the most well-established risk factors for the development of eating pathology in females (e.g., Attie & Brooks-Gunn, 1989; Cash, Theriault, & Annis, 2004; Stice, 1994; Stice, Mazotti, Krebs & Martin, 1998; Wildes, Simons, & Marcus, 2005). Body dissatisfaction is prevalent in general as well as clinical Western female populations, such that a moderate amount of dissatisfaction with one's own body image is considered by some to be normative (e.g., Mazzeo, 1999; Rodin, Silberstein & Striegel-Moore, 1984).

Attitudes about body image standards appear to vary vastly across different ethnic groups (e.g., Sobal & Stunkard, 1989). For example, whereas large bodies have traditionally represented wealth, status and good health in Pacific communities, the opposite connotations have tended to apply within Westernised societies (Craig, Swinburn, Matenga-Smith, Matangi & Vaughan, 1996). However, body dissatisfaction is becoming increasingly prevalent across a wide range of cultural or ethnic groups (Brewis, McGarvey, Jones & Swinburn, 1998; Craig et al., 1996; Gleaves et al., 2000). Non-Western ethnic groups, in tune with Western media and culture, are beginning to shift their ideals about their own bodies towards Western ideals (Brewis et al., 1998, Tovee, Swami, Furnham & Mangalparsad, 2006).

Sociocultural theorists assert that Western cultural values for women emphasise the importance of appearance in determining one's own value and role in society, and that a pivotal determinant of attractiveness is 'thinness' (Rodin et al., 1984, Stice, 1994, Warren et al., 2005). To this end, many researchers in this field have explored the relationship between what men find attractive and women's perception of ideal body image standards (e.g., Fallon & Rozin, 1985; Gleaves, et al., 2000; Miller & Halberstadt, 2005). In general these studies find that women tend to pick ideal figures that are thinner than the figures men choose as being most attractive (and women do seem to believe that men prefer thin ideals [Gleaves et al., 2000]). There may, therefore, be other influences that are more predictive of female body dissatisfaction, such as women's perceptions of body image standards for themselves as well as for other women.

Numerous studies have found differences in body image perceptions between groups of women that are of normal weight and those that are overweight (e.g., Brodie & Slade, 1988; Fitzgibbon, Blackman & Avellone, 2000; Twamley & Davis, 1999). Fitzgibbon et al. found that women who had greater body mass (as measured through the Body Mass Index [BMI]) also reported greater levels of body dissatisfaction. Fitzgibbon et al. also found that body dissatisfaction emerged at differing levels of body mass across the different ethnic groups, and that the effect of increasing body mass produced differing levels of increase in body dissatisfaction across ethnic groups. Accounting for the effect of body mass on the relationship between ethnicity and body dissatisfaction may be important in a population such as New Zealand Tangata Whenua Maori women, who are overrepresented in overweight and obese groups compared to European women (Metcalf, Scragg, Willoughby, Finau & Tipene-Leach, 2000). …

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